What makes line-dried laundry smell so good?

Fresh laundry – crisp cotton sheets on a washing line – is often cited as one of our all-time favourite smells. But what exactly makes line-dried fabric smell so good, and which fragrances can equally evoke the immediate comfort we long for…?

The only time I’ve ever been to Amsterdam, it wasn’t to gawp at canals and clogs and cheese (or even indulge in legal cannabis bars), but to visit its industrial district, and the secret centre where most of the world’s laundry detergents and fabric conditioners are made.

‘We basically create the smell of people’s babies,’ one of the technical perfumers told me, ‘and if we even change the scent of their washing powder a little bit, we get so many complaints.’ They produced many thousands of possible options to fragrance people’s washing – from caramel (popular in Brazil, apparently) to chic multi-layered, musky perfumes. But the most popular of all (and one of the most technically challenging to re-create)? That freshly line-dried smell.

So what is it, beyond your choice of washing powder, that makes fabric smell particularly pleasing if it’s been dried on a line (preferably in a flower meadow, and hung while wearing an Edwardian broderie anglaise gown just prior to picking apples in the orchard, in my dreams, but we work with what we have.)

In a scientific paper examining the ‘Chemical analysis and origin of the smell of line-dried laundry‘, atmospheric chemists have published their analysis of ‘line-dried towels at the molecular level’, now they’ve discovered the exact source of this so-specific smell. Using cotton towels from IKEA, they washed them three times, then dried them in three differing ways: inside the office, on the balcony under a plastic shade and on the balcony in the sun.

Percy Harland Fischer – Washing on the Line (1867-1944)

Extraordinarily, they found that ‘Line-drying uniquely produced a number of aldehydes and ketones,’ Sylvia Pugliese – the leading researcher – told the New York Times – which are ‘…organic molecules our noses might recognise from plants and perfumes. For example, after sunbathing, the towels emitted pentanal, found in cardamom, octanal, which produces citrusy aromas, and nonanal, which smells rose-like.’

Fascinating stuff, and it got me wondering which fragrances we could reach for that could also recreate that feeling of sunlit cleanliness and comfort, bottled…

A whoosh of silvery, sun-dappled airiness shot through with ginger, mint, and leafy green notes, softening to powdery florals, cushioned by warm skin-like musk and vetiver. One to spray when you need to be reminded of lazy sundays and lie-ins and snuggling up in bliss.

CLEAN Reserve Warm Cotton [Reserve Blend] £82 for 100ml eau de parfum
spacenk.com

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Yearning for an eco-luxury house with a Swedish mountain lake view? (Uh yes, always.) Bright cotton and bracing air’s evoked with ambrette seeds, freesia, spring magnolia, and soft musk. You’ll be yodelling from first spritz.

Bjork & Berries FJÄLLSJÖ £85 for 50ml eau de parfum
eu.bjorkandberries.com

Who doesn’t want to be wrapped in a whisper of white fluffy towels and powdery peonies? Effortless and uncomplicated, sooth cares away with delicate freesia nuzzling fuzzy peach, gauzy ylang ylang, sheer rose, wisps of incense and a cloud of creamy froth.

Cacharel Noa, £15 for 30ml eau de toilette
superdrug.com


Mandarin swathed in powdered sandalwood shavings, violet suffused in a cool fig milk and tonka bean draped with the feeling of washing blowing in the breeze. Think muslin curtains framing a perfect view, the deliciously cool side of a pillow against a flushed cheek.

Van Cleef & Arpels Bois Blanc £130 for 75ml eau de parfum
selfridges.com

Think: deliciously smooth, Egyptian cotton (high thread count, obvs) boutique hotel sheets, just-showered skin and roasted coffee beans sitting atop a warm snuggle of back-lit amber and the sexy hay-like muskiness of the base. For dirty weekends (but in clean sheets.)

La Maison Hedonique Samedi À Paris £135 for 50ml eau de parfum
lamaisonhedonique

So, next time you bury your nose in a freshly dried, fluffy towel, slip into deliciously clean sheets that were dried in the sunshine or spray yourself with a fabulously ‘clean’ smelling fragrance – consider if you can pick up these ultra-nuanced notes with your nose. The more deeply we analyse smells – especially those ‘everyday scents’ we think we know so well – the greater our understanding and the better our sense of smell ultimately becomes. It’s a washing-day win-win…

By Suzy Nightingale

How to find your fragrant armour

Have you found your fragrant armour? There are times we need to reach for something to give us extra backbone, make us stand a little taller and feel able to deflect the slings and arrows slung at us by the world, or the cope with the circumstances we find ourselves in. So don’t worry: we’ve made it our mission to help you find yours…

As I write this, those circumstances are more pertinent than ever, my step father having suffered another stroke. In the unbearable period of sitting and waiting for news, amidst chaos and fear; wearing the right fragrance doesn’t only gives me something to cling to. Judiciously selected, they can climb inside me like a perfumed posession. I’m not quite myself when I wear them. And I like it.

A perfume wont make everything perfect, of course, but it can offer a kind of shield of protection – a fragrant cloak in which you waft surefootedly and go from clapped-out to kick-ass in just a few spritzes. It’s been proven that some aromas can significantly help calm us, but scientists always seem to foucs research on that scented moment of zen, when fragrance can do so much more than merely steady our nerves.

When I need that fist of steel within a velvet glove, I have consistently been reaching for my trusty travel-size Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady £47 for 10ml eau de parfum refill at fredericmalle.co.uk. A lady? Yes, but this one’s not for swooning. I picture an aristocratic dame in full 18th Century attire, frustrated with watching the antics of knights’ jousting, and deciding to pitch in herself. Swagged with 400 Turkish roses, sharp blackberry spears the skin-warmth of sandalwood, ripe raspberry unappologetically cutting a swathe through an almost chocolate-like patchouli and the base a frankincense trip to the confessional – but only to boast of her sins.

Perhaps you already have an elixir that works like a charm? I don’t mean something that smells nice, or even something you often wear and adore. Fragrant armour needs to go above and beyond. We’re not talking comfy jeans and a clean t-shirt, here. This scent needs to lift you to a higher plain, spark your imagination and leave others trailing (preferably quailing) in your perfumed wake.

There’s a peculiar alchemy in finding which fragrance works for you. It needs to have an element of comfort, but without being so pillowy and soft that it lulls you into a state of hazy languor. It should be familiar enough to fit you like a second skin, yet not so customary that it feels commonplace. And it needs to be recognisably you, but turned up to eleven: that superhero (or, perhaps, villainous?) version of yourself, who can destroy foes with a KAPOW! while wearing a catsuit and a satisfied smirk.

So, how to find yours?

First, have a look through your perfume collection (or samples you’ve tried and loved, recently), and do the Sniff Test. Spray several blotters (use some tissues or strips of thin card, if you don’t have any) and write the names of the fragrances on. Smell after a few minutes, and then return to them all within half an hour.

Secondly, you’re going to narrow down those that make you feel a frisson. Put aside those that make you go ‘OooOOooh!’ when you smell them, and trying them on your skin. No just “Mmm, yes, lovely’ reactions. This has to be an unbidden, visceral noise of satisfaction or surprise. Come back to each and smell them again, an hour after first spraying. Do any still excite you? Good. These are your starting point for the next step.

Now, type the name into our Find a Fragrance page. If you’re not sure of your favourite family, or want wider suggestions, just choose ‘not sure’ from the drop-down list.

It works by decoding one of your favourite perfumes, and suggesting six alternatives to try. It isn’t some pot-luck shot in the dark based on the ingredients and notes alone – we use key emotion-driven words given in the perfumer’s briefing, or the original inspiration behind the launch. And it’s really quite spookily accurate at predicting what you might like, and love…

My suggestions were for some I already tried, really love and must dig out or re-purchase to try again, and something that really caught my eye: BDK French Bouquet £195 for 100m eau de parfum at harrods.com. Now I’ve been meaning to try this, happened to have a sample kicking around, and so immediately sprayed some on. Oh. Oh YES.

Suddenly I’m in Paris (cliché, I know, but let’s go with it) and I’m wearing the kind of elegant suit and clicky heels I could absolutely never dream of without spraining an ankle or spilling soup on in real life. But in my dream I’m imbued with insouciant chicness, glossy hair gleaming in the sunshine of (what I later learn) is aldehyde C12 – a chemical compound found naturally in citrus oils – seamlessly blending bergamot, rose and jasmine alongside classic Chypre notes (my favourite family, hello) with what they describe a a ‘powdery yet potent effect.’ It’s slightly soapy, but very sexy. Not in a ‘come up and see me sometime’ sense, but rather a ‘hot damn I look great, today’ way. And heaven knows, we all need that.

It made me feel instantly pulled together and like I knew what I was doing. Which is far from the truth, and therefore most welcome. I’ll be adding this to my olfactory arsenal to be deployed as required. I suggest aquiring travel-sizes or samples for your armour (or weapons) of choice, to be carried about your person, whenever the need arises.

Think of your fragrant armour as the scented equivalent of the red lipstick, then. But the magic of this olfactory signal is that it’s invisible – and all the more powerful for being so. It’s your secret, a message written to yourself (in that red lipstick, emblazoned on a bathroom mirror) saying: ‘You’ve got this.’

By Suzy Nightingale

Scents of solace: five fragrances to love and Hygge

There are times when a hug from someone you love is not possible, when well-meaning words of kindness simply will not suffice. It is then we reach for other sources of comfort – a cosy blanket, a much-loved book, a favourite fragrance…
2016 has witnessed various outpourings of sadness as much-loved celebrities have passed away and world events have bemused, bewildered and terrified in turn. You’ve probably noticed the Danish and Norwegian word, ‘Hygge’, is everywhere – not easily translated, it basically invokes a feeling of cosiness, hunkering down and surrounding yourself with comforting, nurturing things. Those of us who treasure the power of perfume know only too well its ability to amplify or even alter our mood, so is it any wonder we may turn to fragrance when seeking solace from one thing or another?

Photo by Urbanara.co.uk
Photo by Urbanara.co.uk

In controlled tests, the smell of vanilla has been shown time and again to elicit a soothing response, with some positing the suggestion the scent links us to childhood memories of warm milk, soft puddings, sticky bags of bonbons or even suckling at the breast. Others point to studies showing the reduced ‘startle-reflex’ effect in animals, when a vanilla smell is dispersed during stressful situations – including those who aren’t naturally suckled – and suggesting something far more complex is at work than a foodie’s blissful reverie.
Our sense of smell is so deeply rooted in emotion and memory, that scientists are only just beginning to piece together a hazy map of understanding which neurones fire-up when certain scents are wafted beneath our nostrils, and why they elicit such intense responses…
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For full-on vanilla bean gently buffed by the honeyed piquancy of quince and dark trickle of Peru balsam, we suggest you indulge your inner-magpie with this gloriously glittery bottle of what is, basically, an extremely sexy custard. Or crème anglaise, to put it more chicly. Either way, its decadently delicious and as it’s a limited edition, you should stock up now for future emergencies.
Michel Kors Midnight Shimmer £53.10 for 50ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Boots
Lavender, too, has long been used to soothe more than skin irritations, and Shakespeare’s Ophelia citing ‘rosemary for remembrance’ has been proved very possibly correct, extensive tests revealing concentration and memory can be greatly increased when sniffing the essential oil while studying and then accurately recalling lessons learned.
31tldkmpol-_sy300_One of the first flowers distilled by founder Olivier Baussan, L’Occitane uses lavender sourced from farmers’ cooperatives in Haute-Provence. This aromatic tribute to their homeland is the softest way there is to soothe frazzled nerves. We recommend dabbing directly on the temples and breathing deeply…
L’Occitane Lavender Relaxing Roll-On £12 for 10ml Cologne
Buy it at uk.loccitane.com
It isn’t just sprigs of fresh herbs and pure oils, of course: a perfume of any kind can be a powerful spell, if not to banish the black dog then at least to stop it growling for a while – a fragrance foothold on the slippery slope of adversity. And incense as a perfume ingredient is on the rise once again, with contemporary perfumers not merely evoking the frankincense-infused pews of a church, but using it in more intriguing ways.
205-73060631-dr100mrpf_mFabrice Pellegrin blends bergamot and a bracing splash of petit grain before spiralling into a hint of mint that awakens the senses (without smelling like mouthwash, we are happy to report). The dreamy haze of incense, iris and vanilla drift us to a mellow place where fevered brows are soothed by cool hands and everything is alright.
Dear Rose Mentha Religiossa £155 for 100ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Selfridges
Is there a particular perfume that raises a smile as you picture a loved one – a single spray and they appear: a genie from a scent bottle? Perhaps you have a fragrance to bolster your confidence – one to wear at that tough meeting, a scent equivalent to shoulder pads, a perfectly tailored suit or backbone in a bottle?
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Unapolagetically flirtatious, this is a snuggly cashmere stole nonchalantly draped around bare shoulders – white peony and Bulgarian rose melding beautifully into a bouquet that’s distinctly on the naughtier side of floral. And here the base is enhanced with a vivacious vetiver, which we always find becalming, don’t you?
Narcisso Rodriguez £35 for 30ml eau de toilette
Buy it at The Perfume Shop
Whether your choice of scent finds you full to the brim with girlish glee or finding succour in sadness as you revel in the emotion and let it find its natural level – in trying times, those pretty potions can be invisible shields, comfort blankets, a whole panoply of anchors or escape routes, if you only know where to find them.
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A blissful blanket with a steely underbelly sounds like something of a misnomer, but this just seems to exude waves of smooth confidence. ‘You’ll want to wrap it around you, lose yourself in the depth of the moment and suspend time’, they say. With rose, vanilla, a fizzy violet-powdered cloud and base of benzoin, we couldn’t agree more.
Maison Francis Kurkdjin Oud Satin Mood £195 for 70ml eau de parfum
Buy it at House of Fraser
What are your favourite fragrances to spritz when the going gets tough? Do get in touch by Tweeting, posting a picture and tagging us on Instagram or e-mail us – we’d love to know!
Now then, altogether: let us spray…
Written by Suzy Nightingale